A Different Birthday

Normally on my birthday I try to take some time to myself for reflection, good food, and maybe some limited frivolity with friends. This year I wanted to try something different.

Parenting is hard. The logistics of family life is hard. Everyone is in different emotional and physical states. So while I do take my kiddos out for play in the park and do other things very frequently, it’s been a long time since I got one-on-one time with each of the kids.

About 9am on my birthday, I got started. CaiQun and I visited B&B Bagels, just about the best real bagels west of the Mississippi. She loves her plain bagel with plain cream cheese… to each their own, right? Then we went to look at LEGOs and talk about building things. It was a sweet time with a daughter who often has to shout at home to be heard, but who is quiet and calm when she gets some quality time one-on-one.

MeiMei was pleased to get to hang out in B&B and do some reading and chatting.

Next it was Miranda’s turn. She has been asking to go to the Library for some new books about cats and baking, two of her passions. She’s been watching some of the baking shows available on Netflix and has gotten the basic concepts down. She wanted to get more focused understanding (she often over-applies sugars and under-applies flour!), so we searched for some books (“No, daddy, ADULT baking books!”). I steered her away from volumes on French Cooking (talk about delusions of grandeur), but she settled on some good stuff. Then we got her some frosting application bags. Needless to say she’s been very pro-dad for the last 24 hours!

MGB writing down her library finds!

It was now a bit after lunch time, so I decided to take FangFang out for a meal at Panera, one of her favorites. She got mac&cheese and a fruity drink while I opted for a large salad. We chatted a lot about food, food-eating techniques (“I like to double-fist it!” she exclaimed), and potential future meals we might have. This is a girl who definitely likes to eat. After that we had a fun walk around the mall, observing and commenting on many things.

FangFang demonstrates the “double-fisting” technique.

Last but not least was Atticus. He is so excited about all things water these days… and often we come into a bathroom or walk past the cat dishes to see that he has flooded a portion of the room. I knew this caring, curious boy would love some time on a local river in one of the several nature preserves that dot Mid-Missouri.

Atticus had so much fun chasing minnows and crawdads in the shallows.
So much joy in this little guy’s eyes while on the river.

Capen Park, which is a section of the Grindstone Nature Area, features a nice cliff climb that even little kids can do and access to the river for exploration. It was great to be able to give my boy 2+ hours of self-directed play on the water and rocks.

Atticus loves doing some rock climbing… and he was careful around the edge of the cliff (whew!)
Spying the way forward…

It was a FULL day – basically 9am to 4pm of consistent activity. I think I’ll hold onto these memories to help me through rough patches… hell, even today I called them up to help me regulate when the kiddos were having some fits.

I’m sad a lot these days. All things are stranger and harder than I thought they would be. But I am blessed and fortunate. A day like this one, taking the kiddos out on individual dad-dates, was really necessary. It was good for my heart and it was good for theirs, too. Each of them has talked to me about their special time. Glad to know I can still do something right.

Now if I could just feel as triumphant as Atticus does here, spreading his arms out at the top of the cliff…

King of the world!

I definitely won’t wait until my next birthday to do this again. A good start to #43.

Miranda’s Birdfeeder Birdhouse

The last few weeks have been pretty intense. Sickness, heavy schedules to manage, deadlines to meet, presentations to give, paintings to complete and ship out… I’ve been overloaded.

Miranda painting out the design in my studio

Last week, though, I decided to step away from my “responsibilities” for a few hours and work with my oldest kiddo to make a new birdhouse/birdfeeder.

She created the designs for the outside and made the primary choices for how the finished house would look. We talked about how birds would access the house, where food would be, and how we would like to be able to see the ornithological engagement from the comfort of our living room.

Next came the fabrication. I handled the big saw cutting to assure the pieces were proper size, and then I cut the angles for the pentagonal house to fit together. Miranda did some of the chop saw work and she absolutely doing the gluing and brad gunning. She wanted to get her very own brad gun (Alison said no)!

Marking off for the roof shape…
Glue on!
The power of the brad gun compels thee!
The nearly finished product…
And don’t forget to keep the station clean. Putting away tools and sweeping up is super crucial!

After everything was settled and we gave it a night to dry, we put it in place. It’s an epic birdhouse/feeder combo just right for the Ballou Homestead.

The back entrance…
The front stoop with a pile of suet ready for the birds!
And a proud designer oversees her creation!

I am sure we’ll get some great bird visitors over to Miranda’s construction soon – maybe even a couple will stay. In any case, however, I know it was a few hours better spent in making memories and helping Miranda grow more confident with ideas, creativity, and tool use than it would have been in filling out forms or doing some administrative task.

Here’s to putting Love First sometimes!

Inspiration – Miranda Grace Ballou

Miranda Grace helping me with my large mural project, 2018.

My first born child is a spitfire eight year old. She’s great at math. She’s dramatic and feels all the things SUPER intensely. She’s a very good swimmer (winning some heats locally) and is the unequivocal leader of her siblings. She loves horseback riding, Transformers, and Narnia. She has always been a passionate creator; she’s burned through reams of paper and thousands of pens, pencils, and markers. She LOVES joining me in the studio. Recently she helped me out with a large mural I’m working on. She’s a pretty amazing kid. Here’s some of her recent work:

Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on cardboard, 24×18 inches, 2018.

Miranda has started to get very interested in symmetry and creating katywompus abstractions based on a kind of ‘across the surface’ balance. I really like these. Here are a few more.

Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on MDF, 20×23 inches, 2018.

Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on MDF, 6×13 inches, 2018.

Miranda Grace Ballou. Untitled Abstraction. Acrylic on panel, 16×20 inches, 2018.

My daughter is also very much into working with fabrics and paper. She creates books – stories of every day events – and illustrates them. She makes games, and cuts out all of the pieces and creates the rules. She has made costumes, crowns, and jewels – all out of paper. Cardboard boxes have become space ships and forts. Recently she created – totally unprompted and with (as far as I can tell) no context – a sort of paper and fabric piece that functions as both a wall hanging and a skirt. Check it out.

The front side is pictured here on the left. The verso is on the right. When I was taking these photos she was annoyed that I wanted to take a picture of the back, but it’s amazing. She’s using staples to hold layers of various fabrics, paper, adhesive stickers and sheets, as well as post-it notes and tissue paper together. When hanging, she says it’s titled The Straightened Skirt. In this form it’s about 50 by 10 inches in size. Here’s Miranda modeling it in skirt mode:

 

Anyway, I think she’s pretty awesome. Each of my kiddos has been inspirational, and I expect they will all eventually have their own spot on my blog. I’m so thankful for these kids and their creativity and powerful presence in my life. They have made my work and teaching so much more rich and strange.

Preparing for Halloween!

Once again we carved our pumpkins. It’s always a fun event and I look forward to it every year. Check out the kiddos’ works in progress:)


Atticus loved drawing in where to put the eyes and mouth for me to carve. Then I let him unleash the paint…


CaiQun really got coverage on her pumpkin!!


Finally, Miranda got hers underway with some intense primary colors, then some spray paint.

The girls did most of the gutting of the pumpkins themselves – a first for us! We also used LED lights in our pumpkins this year, which is also new. They look pretty epic:)

So a Spider and Alien Went to the Hospital

Photo Jul 14, 7 24 03 PMThe hospital. Why is it a massive cow? I don’t know.

Photo Jul 14, 7 25 29 PM“This is a sew-er. It’s not for sewing up shirts or anything like that. It’s for it’s for sewing up skin. I call it a Dragon’s Tooth.” – Miranda Grace

Photo Jul 14, 7 26 32 PMThe tools used to perform surgery on the Spider and Alien. “Alien’s nose needs to be sewed. Its nose is too big. Its nose holes are too big so the Tylenol drops into them. We don’t need Tylenol slurping in there…. This thing speeds the spider around and makes the animals very upset when the doctor takes it off.” – Real dialog from my kiddos.

Photo Jul 14, 7 23 53 PMThe two Doctors in action.

Atticus Arrives

967896_10104965202870509_452403013_n My son arrived about 36 hours ago. He is healthy, beautiful, and strong. I’m thankful and awed. A few hours after he came, I posted the following image and words: 10454386_10104960823950899_6612423471633883460_n “I nominate Atticus Garrett Ballou to eventually take awesome color pictures, or paint wonders, or write down glories, or sing high praises, or dream strange dreams, or tread with golden feet on far flung vistas, or wheel through the galaxy on spatiotemporal-controlling power… Or at the very least to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. 11/29/14, 3:01am”

My friend Frank (a great educator and thoughtful dad himself) commented, “With a name like Atticus, how can he help it?”

Well, here’s hoping that when my son reads about his namesake he will feel empowered. That we, as his parents, will believe that we’ve done something to impart the thread of grace and understanding that makes Atticus a worthy name to hold.

With a name like Atticus, how can we help it?

~

In the hours that have passed, I’ve had the chance to reflect on the epic person my wife is. I’ve now watched her through two pregnancies and one adoption (processes that are surprisingly equivalent and strenuous, believe me). She is someone who exudes a quality of character and force of will I’ve never had the chance to really know in anyone else. When Miranda was born, I got to see Alison’s movement through labor and delivery with eyes of terror and amazement. This weekend, however, I got to be a calmer, more aware viewer. I was much more keyed into what she needed and what she was doing. Seeing her come into full alignment with her body and her second-by-second progression through the final hours of pregnancy was inspirational. Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 10.52.29 PMAbove Left: Alison just toward the end of heavy labor, around 2am, less than an hour before Atticus was born. I was putting counter-pressure on her lower back and calling out the peaks and troughs of each contraction. Above Right: Alison, exhausted but calm, less than 5 minutes after giving birth. Often during labor she looked like this; totally within herself and focused on the event.

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 …and just a minute or so later, Atticus got that precious skin-to-skin contact with his momma.

~

I was pleased to get some wonderful down time with the two of them after the delivery. We were, I think, able to enjoy that first day in a way we were too blown away to when we had Miranda or came home with CaiQun. Something tells me that ease will be a hallmark of our experience of Atticus. He’s such a relaxed yet alert baby. I think those qualities are something we are all hoping to manifest.

~

I got to draw a portrait of him in the early hours today. I love this first little document of looking at my boy. I hope you do, too.

~

Last, but not least, here are those new big sisters. They’re enjoying (and being generally confused by) their new baby brother. Glory. Thanksgiving.

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My Favorite Artist Turned 4 Today

My first-born came into the open air of this reality four years ago today. She is glorious and wonderful. She is sensation and awe. She is questions and answers. She is being and making and trying. She is joy. And look at the authority with which she handles those paint tools!

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In Which My Daughters Get Their Wings

I took my girls to Menard’s today.

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We grabbed some pink insulation foam, pink and gold duct tape, and some rope.

We were making wings.

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After they chose the shape for their wings (a bit more butterfly/insect than fairy style) and helped me cut them out, we started decorating with the duct tape. We also watched some Daniel Tiger in the midst of the construction.

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With both girls fitted with pink and white rope harnesses, we ventured out into the graduate studios for a run…

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It was such a nice day out, we ran around a bit out behind some student dorms…

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It doesn’t get much cuter than that. But we still needed to add some PAINT!

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Now that’s some glory right there!

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It was a good, good day :)

 

 

Tenth Anniversary

 

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Above: One of my favorite pictures of Alison from our wedding day, ten years ago today.

I wanted to do something special for my wife for our tenth wedding anniversary. Last year I wrote a short remembrance piece about some music that was with me on the day Alison and I were married (read it here). After that, as a gift to my wife, I made a commitment to write nine more stories and present them to her today. I wanted them to be personal, funny, quirky, and timely. More than that, I just wanted to be able to follow through and actually complete the project. I’m happy to report that I did it – 10,980 words, 8 pen and ink illustrations (converted to vector graphics in Illustrator) – 40 pages total. Just for her. Just for us.

I’m deeply thankful that I’ve always been a person who writes and, beyond this, a person who remembers through writing. Human beings – across all seeming barriers of creed, race, and historical context, desire narrative. We want a story that makes sense of our experiences. It’s crucial that we have a place in setting that narrative structure in place. I write, and have always written, to – as the old Christian hymn says – “raise my Ebenezer.” I write to sight the lay of the land, to set the landmarks, and to cite past precedent. The stories I’ve written for Alison are by no means exhaustive of our life together, but they are “Ebenezer” landmarks for us. They are our story. I’m glad I’ve written them down, and I think the importance of taking the time will reveal itself more and more as the decades pass.

~

As of right now she has not seen the book. That will come a bit later tonight. But I’ve already given her Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino for us to read aloud (I love his story “The Distance of the Moon” and can’t wait to read it together). Here it is in it’s wrapping earlier today :)

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For dinner I handmade Chinese style pan-fried dumplings. I found a recipe last month, researched the ingredients, and then went out today while the girls napped and Alison worked to get all that I’d need. Once home I began the process. Here are a few shots taken along the way (!!WARNING, #foodporn AHEAD!!):

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Prepping the ingredients…

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Mixing…

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Pinching the dumplings…

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Laying them out, ready for cooking…

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Post pan-searing, a bit of simmering in the broth…

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GLORY

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The presentation…

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Ah, success!

Today was such a good day… time in the back yard with the family. Then good food, good books, a nice walk in the evening, a chance to chat with my mom (her birthday is today, too!), and now sleeping kids and time to kick back. I’m planning to reveal the Anniversary Stories ~ 2003-2013 book to Alison soon, and then maybe we’ll look back over some of our pictures from the honeymoon. And tomorrow we have good friends in town, so it’s Indian food for lunch after the standard Saturday morning Daddy-Daughters-Date!

So good. I’m so thankful. Ten more years, please. And ten more after that…

~

The Best Way To Do A Q&A

I gave a couple of talks last week, one for the community at large and one for the teaching symposium held here a few days ago.

Perhaps my favorite part of giving talks/lectures is the Q&A time afterward. I get into it. Here’s an example:

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That’s me in 2008, answering a question at the Glen Arbor Art Association. There I am, totally sun-burned, wine in hand, and in my element.

But I think the best way to answer questions is after my daughters run up to the front of the room and want to be with their dad while he talks:

MCTalk-DadGirls1smallThanks to Shalonda for capturing this image.

Wow. That’s a lot of life lived between the first image and the second.

For the record, Miranda asked a question herself while there in my arms. After looking at the image of one of my paintings up on the screen at the time, she asked, “Dad, don’t you think we should draw more back into that painting?”

No, babe, I think it’s done :)